By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Three legislators, including the leader of the House of Representatives, pitched in Sunday to help stop a leak in the Capitol’s House chambers that occurred when snow blew through a vent during Sunday’s blizzard.
House Speaker Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, Rep. Barry Crago, R-Buffalo, and Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, all helped out after water began dripping from the ceiling above the House into the chamber, Barlow said.
“You take care of things when you can,” Barlow told Cowboy State Daily. “We knew our staff was either stranded or taking care of other things.”
In addition, when he returned to the Capitol on Monday, Barlow helped Senate President Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, remove snow and ice in the ceiling above the Senate that had already left a wet spot on the floor of the Senate.
Ellis, who snowshoed to the Capitol from her Cheyenne home on Sunday to complete some work and helped out when she discovered Barlow and Crago at work, said the idea of legislators helping solve a problem with the Capitol says much about the nature of Wyoming’s Legislature.
“It was really cool to see,” she told Cowboy State Daily. “It is such a uniquely Wyoming story. We often have to remind people that we are a citizen Legislature. We all take a ton of pride in that building. We take our jobs as legislators very seriously and (the Capitol is) an important asset to the people of Wyoming, so I’m happy to do what I can.”
Barlow said he was alerted to the problem in the House chamber after a security officer found the leak Sunday.
Barlow, who is living near the Capitol during the session, said he was able to walk to the building and when he got access to the Capitol’s roof, he was able to determine that a vent was stuck open that allowed snow to enter the building during Sunday’s blizzard and begin melting.
“You’ve got to be about half gopher to get into that area,” he said. “There’s lots of tight spots.”
Barlow, a rancher and veterinarian, used plywood scraps to seal the vent and then hauled the snow and ice down from the ceiling with assistance from Crago and Ellis, he said.
“I bet we hauled out probably 25 or 30 gallons of water in the form of ice and snow,” he said.
Ellis said she had finished her work in the Senate on Sunday and was preparing to leave when she heard Barlow and Crago working in the House and decided to stay and help.
“I only helped a couple of hours,” she said. “I just showed up at the end.”
The Legislature’s work was suspended Monday because of the storm, and Barlow said legislative leaders were working to determine whether the session would resume Tuesday.
He said much of the decision would be based on how much snow can be removed from streets surrounding the Capitol.
“There’s a lot of snow to move,” he said.
In addition, some legislators returned to their homes for the weekend and their return could be delayed by the closure of most roads in and out of Cheyenne.
But Barlow said those who stayed in town might actually have a more difficult time returning to the Capitol.
“Even the guys who are in town can’t get around,” he said. “You might be better off in Sheridan than in Cheyenne.”
Damage from the leak was limited to minor water staining, said Ryan Frost, a legislative information officer with the Legislative Service Office.
Wyoming’s Legislature is in its second year of meeting in the Capitol following its four-year, $300 million restoration.
“It’s like any person who moves into a new home, you’ve got to break it in and learn about it,” Ellis said.
This year’s session has been disrupted by the coronavirus. The session was broken into two pieces: a remote session held in February followed by an in-person session that is now about halfway completed.